Thursday, May 21, 2009

Challenge the Accepted Standards and Find the True Soul of Poetry

By Sarah Moore for Writers in the Sky

Is the definition of good poetry similar to that famous phrase uttered by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in 1964, the one in which he stated that hard-core pornography is hard to define but “I know it when I see it”? Can there be a standard barometer employed to determine that a certain piece of artistic expression can be viewed as “good poetry” while another is simply discarded as a ridiculous mess of rhyme and meter that has no merit? When each reader brings his or her own set of personal experiences and tastes to what is presented on the printed page, it seems that it would be impossible to assert an absolute conclusion concerning the poets who warrant our attention. However, when we sit in a classroom or allow the often biased reviews of others to filter our reading choices, we allow a very personal and passionate art form to lose some of its soul-filled emotion.

Just do a quick search on your computer for the syllabi to Introduction to Poetry classes that take place every semester on college campuses across our country. You undoubtedly will find the usual suspects well-represented. Shakespeare, Browning, Longfellow, Dickinson, and Keats all can rest in peace knowing that their work is being read by thousands of co-eds every year. And, these writers are given their place in every standard anthology for good reason as their words have certainly stood the test of time. You will find that new poets are placed somewhere on the syllabus for good measure, as well as poets of ethnic or other demographic minorities. How often, though, are these poets who are considered outside of the accepted poetic mainstream really given their time and studied in-depth by professors and their charges? How much are we limiting ourselves when we only study the academic poets deemed worthy by textbooks?

A similar question must be examined when evaluating the multitude of websites through which poets can share their work with fellow writers. The internet has provided many new opportunities for aspiring poets to find resources and connect with other people who have a real passion for the art form. These forums, though, often devolve into nothing more than opportunities for writers to slap each other on the back and wait for compliments to be reciprocated. Too often, any genuine criticism that it shared with a participating poet is deemed to be hurtful or unjustified. If poets, and writers of all genres for that matter, are serious about their craft and agree that some of the most exciting work is happening well beyond the ivory towers of academia, they should be open to frank discussions and have a desire to make their work better.

In his recently published collection, New and Selected Poems, poet John Yamrus uses many of the seventy-six pieces included in the book to challenge the ways in which readers decide to accept certain writers and work. He laments the closed circles in which “the academic poet” resides and offers direct responses to those who contact him with thoughtless admonitions as well as to fellow poets who subscribe to the collegial atmosphere of most poetry sharing. Along the way, Yamrus also uses his sharp language to provide his unique perspective on the everyday surroundings and events in our lives.

New and Selected Poems is the nineteenth book published by John Yamrus, whose previous works include sixteen books of poetry and two novels. New and Selected Poems can be purchased through the publisher, Lummox Press, or at

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